How Can Sam Darnold Improve When He Returns

The Jets first-round pick from 2018 has taken several steps backward this year. Sam Darnold has been failed by the Jets throughout his entire career. General manager Joe Douglass offseason additions have been less than impressed with both the line and offense in general.

Letting Robby Anderson Go Was A Mistake

Offensively, the Jets essentially replaced wide receiver Robby Anderson with Breshad Perriman. He has played in three games and has recorded nine receptions for 91 yards. Robby Anderson, on the other hand, has recorded 40 receptions for 566 yards. He is already seemingly on pace to shatter his career-best of 63 receptions and 941 yards that he set in 2017.

And this was all for a difference of one year and $12 million in their respective contracts. Robby Anderson has had a breakout season to this point and the move to not re-sign him is looking like a complete bust for Joe Douglas and the Jets. Instead of building up weapons and protection for Sam, the Jets have failed to build a core around him. The blame can be attributed to previous general manager Mike Maccagnan, which is why Joe Douglas is looking for a completely new start.

The question now is what the Jets are going to do with Sam Darnold. That will likely be left to another article, though, it can be assumed that the Jets will move on. The Jets are seemingly tanking as head coach Adam Gase remains with the club despite the disaster that he has been. He will most likely be let go at the end of the season, but it’s clear the frustrations are getting high. Although Darnold has repeatedly proclaimed his confidence in Gase, it’s evident that Gase has destroyed Darnold’s growth.

How Sam Darnold Can Improve the Rest of the Way

Now that begs the question. How can Sam Darnold improve for the rest of the season? The answer is rather complex because in all likelihood it doesn’t seem as he will be able to do so. The team has been in the dumpster for basically the whole season and they haven’t had many opportunities to win any games. Darnold hasn’t looked good, though he has seemingly received no help from his head coach.

One might expect that Gase would be constantly around Darnold in-game, discussing potential plays and what he needs to do to prepare for the next drive. Gase is seemingly nonexistent and leaves Darnold on his own a lot of the time. After last season, people said it would not be good for Sam’s growth to let Gase go. The reasoning was that he would’ve had his third coach in three years, which isn’t easy on a young quarterback.

Adam Gase Has Stunted Sam Darnold’s Growth

However, many have argued that Gase has stunted his growth, and it would be detrimental to his future to keep him. The Jets did anyway and are now paying the price as their quarterback is in a tough spot. Darnold is currently still unfit to return, which goes back to another thing.

Adam Gase seemingly has no regard to put his player’s best interests first. In a game against the Broncos, Gase decided to put Darnold back into the game after leaving due to injury. It was the game where he ran for a sweet 46-yard touchdown run on the team’s first possession. However, on another play, later on, he was sacked and hit the ground hard, injuring his shoulder. He went to get it checked out then returned to the sideline, where Gase threw him right back into the game. Although Darnold ended up finishing the game, he was slammed down again a sack and likely injured his shoulder further. As a result, he’s already missed the last two weeks and likely more because of Gase’s insistence on using Darnold after the initial injury. Thus, it’s clear that he doesn’t coach with the best interest of his players in mind.

Build Off Post-Injury Resurgences

As for how Darnold can improve, a great start would be to fire Gase, although that isn’t likely at the moment. One way he can improve would be to build off his resurgence that he’s had the last couple of seasons when returning from injury. In 2018, he had 11 touchdowns in his first 9 games, then finished with six touchdowns in his last four games following injury.

In 2019, he missed weeks 2-4 due to mono, but when he returned led the Jets to a 7-5 record and had 18 touchdowns. Although the Jets didn’t end up making the playoffs, it was an encouraging sign to see Sam look the way he did after his return. Fast forward to this year, he could accomplish a similar feat, though it will be increasingly difficult given the Jets brutal schedule.

Give Sam the Ability to Perform Audibles

Another way for Sam to improve when he returns from injury would be allowing him to call audibles. Gase has been the sole playmaker and play-caller. However, it’s clear that as the year has gone by that Adam Gase’s play-calling has evidently not worked. Gase should instead change course and give Sam the ability to do an audible when the situation is appropriate. Also, by just changing things up it might bring the Jets more luck because whatever Gase is doing isn’t working. He could either stick to the status quo in which things have failed or give something else a chance.

In a game against the 49ers, the Jets went for it on fourth-and-1 at the 49ers 20-yard line in the second quarter. Although the San Francisco defense appeared to leave a gap between the center and left guard and giving Sam the space to sneak through for a first down, he instead handed it off to running back Josh Adams, who was stopped for no gain. The argument that Adam Gase in the postgame was that it was “his call,” as that’s how he didn’t draw it up.

Darnold defended the call saying “Adam said it best. I don’t have the option to do that.” However, if Gase did indeed give Sam the ability to call the audible, he might’ve been able to call that and get the first down. Gase needs to start being less rigid and allow his quarterback to audible in similar situations like this. Evidently, better things may happen offensively for the Jets.

Alter the Offensive Structure to Fit Sam Darnold

Another way that might allow Sam to potentially improve this season is to alter the offensive structure of the team. While players such as Le’Veon Bell said Darnold had begun to grasp more of Gase’s offense, the opposite has occurred. Darnold has been lost more often than not, which has resulted in many three-and-out drives and low scoring games. Thus, it’s no surprise the Jets have only been able to muster 75 points, while consequently allowing 185.

Gase has completely failed to be there for his young quarterback and now Sam Darnold is paying for it. The offense has also been taking their drives more conservatively under Gase. With Denzel Mims likely returning next week, Gase needs to change that. Gase needs to develop plays that take deeper shots and go for more yardage. This is because the conservative strategy of short passing and short carries hasn’t done anything for Darnold and the offense.

If Gase wants to see Darnold succeed, he’s going to have to open up the reigns and allow Darnold to unleash longer throws. Given that the team is currently 0-6, everything should be on the table. The Jets have nothing to lose and should change things up for Darnold and the offense.


All in all, Gase has clearly failed to be there and provide for his quarterback. The team is now 0-6, and Sam Darnold is about to miss his third week due to injury. However, when Darnold inevitably returns, the status quo is likely to continue. To be completely honest, it doesn’t seem like Gase has any plans to alter his strategy and play calling. This means the struggles of Darnold will likely continue throughout the rest of the year.

Unfortunately for Darnold, the Jets weren’t able to foresee the damage that Gase would cause to Darnold. The best thing for the Jets would be to get through this season, fire Gase, and trade Darnold to another team. Whichever team it is will hopefully give Darnold the weapons and coaching he needs to succeed. With the Jets potentially getting the first pick, they can then pivot to a future with Trevor Lawrence. The potential is there for Sam, except he hasn’t had the weapons or coaching to reach his ceiling. Hopefully that all changes next year!

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